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3 Leadership Benefits of Choosing Self-Compassion

By Sally Ann Moyer

Is failure part of your vocabulary? Leaders must accentuate the positive in driving their organizations toward success, but a mythical view of leadership could be holding you back. Focusing only on your strengths keeps you from effectively dealing with your weaknesses. Heidi Grant Halvorson, a blogger for Harvard Business Review, argues that self-compassion may be a more effective path to success than having a high self-esteem.

Leaders are people of action. They must act boldly and with confidence. Dr. Henry Mintzberg, an internationally renowned business and management researcher, discovered that this pressure means “managers often have to feign confidence.” Halvorson described a leader’s pursuit of organizational success more bluntly:  confidence makes you feel the need to believe “you are perfectly awesome” all the time. This fake it till you make it mentality leaves us afraid of making mistakes.

Feigning confidence can create an internal tension between self-esteem and reality. Halvorson advocates forgetting self-esteem in exchange for self-compassion. We should embrace our failures because “high self-esteem does not predict better performance or greater success.” Turns out, faking it doesn’t always result in making it.

Leaders with self-compassion take a holistic approach to evaluating their abilities. This allows them to embrace their humanity without lowering the bar for success.

How do leaders benefit from choosing self-compassion over self-esteem?

1. They take control of their weaknesses
Realistic, self-compassionate leaders gain control over their weaknesses. They recognize their faults and can use these mistakes as opportunities for growth. Always evaluating mistakes from a position of high self-esteem limits the potential for growth. Self-compassion helps us see where we have room to grow and the next opportunities for our success instead of operating with a blind and shallow confidence that excuses weaknesses.

2. They see leaders as humans, not heroes
Self-compassion lets us take back our humanity. We realize that to err is human, but we keep both failure and success from defining us. Success is often a result of the right people being in the right role at the right time. This takes a lot of pressure away from the need to excel at everything. Managers who accept their flaws can see not only what went wrong but why and how to fix it in the future.  A report by the Institute for Human Resources on Mintzberg’s leadership research concluded that we should view “leaders as everyday people, not heroes.” If leaders only inspire, then we have nothing concrete for which to aspire. Seeing the connections between leading and managing helps us clearly define what it means to be a leader.

3. They develop as leaders (and help others do the same)
We can use the principle of self-compassion both for success in our own careers and for developing future leaders. Staying in the real world shows us that leaders can come from anywhere. Instead of looking for superheroes, we can focus on finding the right person to fit each role. We might want a savior, but an attainable reality provides a more secure comfort. Leaders also have to remember they cannot be the savior for their office. This realistic approach can promote teamwork and developing leadership characteristic in all of your employees.

While leaders with high self-esteem know how to focus on what they do well, they have no way of dealing with their weaknesses. The high self-esteem approach is to simply ignore them. Self-compassion opens the door for leaders to handle weaknesses more effectively. It’s a realistic approach that lets us take control over our failures and grow as leaders.

How has embracing your weaknesses helped you as a leader?

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